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Explained | What do we know about Alexei Navalny and his death?

Navalny had lampooned President Vladimir Putin's elite and exposed some of the opulence of the lifestyles of senior officials, using the internet and even drones to illustrate what he described as their vast holdings and luxury property.
Last Updated 18 February 2024, 16:10 IST

Moscow: Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition leader, died on Friday after collapsing and losing consciousness at the penal colony north of the Arctic Circle where he was serving a long jail term, the Russian prison service said.

Navalny, 47, had become the leading figure among Russia's splintered opposition. Supporters had cast him as a Russian version of South Africa's Nelson Mandela who would one day be freed from jail to lead the country.

He earned admiration from many in Russian opposition circles for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he underwent treatment for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia.

Rise to prominence

A former lawyer, Navalny rose to prominence with blogs which exposed what he said was vast corruption among the Russian elite, describing Russia as ruled by "crooks and thieves".

He participated in Russian nationalist marches in the 2000s. Calls for restrictions on immigration and criticism over what some viewed as his overly nationalist views prompted his expulsion from the liberal Yabloko opposition party in 2007.

He lampooned President Vladimir Putin's elite and exposed some of the opulence of the lifestyles of senior officials, using the internet and even drones to illustrate what he described as their vast holdings and luxury property.

When demonstrations against Putin flared in December 2011, after an election tainted by fraud accusations, he was one of the first protest leaders arrested.

Navalny long forecast Russia could face seismic political turmoil, including revolution, because he said Putin had built a brittle system of personal rule reliant on sycophancy and corruption.

What did the Kremlin have to say?

The Kremlin said Putin had been informed of Navalny's death. The Kremlin had also, previously, dismissed Navalny's allegations of vast corruption and Putin's personal wealth. Navalny's political movement is currently outlawed in Russia and most of his senior allies have fled the country and now live in Europe.

Russian officials cast Navalny as an extremist who was a puppet of the CIA, the US intelligence agency, which they say is intent on trying to sow the seeds of revolution to weaken Russia and make it a client state of the West.

Navalny was detained countless times for organising public rallies, and prosecuted repeatedly on charges including corruption, embezzlement and fraud. He said the accusations and convictions were politically motivated.

Navalny had an extra 19 years in a maximum security penal colony added to his jail term in 2023 in a criminal case that he said was designed to intimidate the Russian people into political submission.

Poisoning episode

In August 2020, Navalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk, in Siberia, to Moscow. The pilot made an emergency landing, saving his life, and Navalny was flown to Berlin, where he was treated for the effects of a neurotoxin that German military tests showed to be Novichok, a poison developed in the Soviet Union.

Putin dismissed a joint media investigation that said it had identified a team of assassins from Russia's FSB security service. "If someone had wanted to poison him, they would have finished him off," he said.

Navalny's family

Navalny's wife is Yulia. Their daughter is called Darya, and their son is called Zakhar.

Key Navalny quotes

On the Ukraine war:

"This is a stupid war which your Putin started," Navalny told an appeal court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony in 2022. "This war was built on lies."

"One madman has got his claws into Ukraine and I do not know what he wants to do with it - this crazy thief."

On Putin:

"Corruption is the foundation of contemporary Russia, it is the foundation of Mr Putin’s political power," Navalny told Reuters in an interview in 2011.

On Russia:

"Once the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy described the structure of power in Russia: 'the villains who robbed their own people got together, recruited soldiers and judges to guard their orgy, and now they're having a feast'. This brilliant phrase precisely describes what is happing in our country."

In 2023, he admonished the Russian elite for its venality, expressing hatred for those who he said squandered a historic opportunity to reform after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

He dissected Russia's post-Soviet history, including the legacies of the most powerful figures of the 1990s who became known as the reformers who sought to lay the foundations of capitalism and the oligarchs who won fabulous fortunes.

"I can’t stop myself from fiercely, wildly hating those who sold, pissed away, and squandered the historical chance that our country had in the early nineties," Navalny said.

On fear and ambition:

"Why should I be afraid?" he said in 2011 when asked about the dangers of challenging the Kremlin.

When asked by Reuters about his ambition, he winced but said: "I would like to be president, but there are no elections in Russia."

On death:

"If they decide to kill me then it means we are incredibly strong and we need to use that power and not give up," he once told CNN. "We don't realise how strong we actually are."

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(Published 18 February 2024, 16:10 IST)

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